New York, NY
There has never been a better time to be in the position you are in. You are admired, trusted, pursued. You will have opportunities to travel the world, eat at top restaurants and share wines that very few get to experience. In the not so distant past the wine buyer was the General Manager or ‘wine captain’, and now you could be on TV or write a column in a large, well-known publication. This is your time. It is your turn. As you may know, I have been at this for a while. Throughout my career I have seen the same mistakes made repeatedly in the wine buying role and I am hoping that I can help you avoid a few of them, if only a bit. This is just the beginning, thank you for your trust.
Don’t write a wine list, paint a picture.
A wine list is a canvas, (usually an underserved, underutilized, and non-specific one). Take note of the way the eyes move across the page, the way numbers and names interact with each other and the person viewing it. The very architecture of your list is a study in movement and massively impacts the success of your program. At one point in history, we judged a wine list by having “things to drink”. Well, that time is basically over. Now it is more a question of how, rather than what.
What does the list you shepherd say? You need to know. If your narrative isn’t clear, you must tinker with it until it resonates.
Protect your time.
Many of your colleagues will present their “busyness” as a badge of success. They will use this often as an excuse and unknowingly promote chaos. Please don’t fall into that trap. If you truly have no time, it is a prison of your own making.
Ordering is a discipline.
How you order wine for your list and with what clarity says everything about how you work. Placing orders is a practice that is no less important than inventory. The amount of knowledge and tasting ability in wine director positions across the city today is at an all-time high, and yet, ordering sloppiness is startlingly common. Most disorganized programs begin with haphazard ordering and buying practices. Rushing and confusion can only follow..
Truly knowing a producer is quite rare. It takes very little talent or skill to know who the top producers are, while deeply understanding a producer and/or identifying the underserved, forgotten or new is a craft. Anytime one says that a producer is the ‘best’, take note. Please ask yourself if you can trust the person saying this. Is this someone who you envision tasting through an appellation and making that call reliably? Or even further, have they visited and looked deeply beyond the hype? Be very careful who and how you follow. You may be choosing to be a part of a flock moving always towards the same “chosen” wines.
“ No matter what anyone tells you, you are not a brand. You are a person.
You support people, not wines.
Sometimes it becomes romantic to make it “all about the wine”, but this is never actually the case. What you place on your list supports people. It takes care of producers that give their lives to make something, and aids the people who put the immense time, risk and energy into importing and connecting those producers to a market. This is a part of your art to treasure, not resist. People mean much more than wine.
And all success on your path. More to come.